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Senate Democrats Press Bush To Up Spending on Education

By Helen Dewar

Senate Democrats ratcheted up pressure on the White House Monday to increase spending on education, warning they may hold up action on President Bush’s school proposals until a dispute over funding is resolved.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said the Democrats would oppose Republican plans to bring the president’s legislation to the Senate floor “until we can resolve this issue of funding.” Daschle expressed “reasonable” confidence that the dispute could be resolved in time for action on the bill to begin this week.

Bush defended his plan as striking a good balance, noting that changing the education system involves more than just money.

“I support historic new levels of education funding, yet all of us know better schools require more than just funding,” the president said at a Rose Garden ceremony honoring Michele Forman of Vermont as the 2001 National Teacher of the Year. “My education reform has a good balance of new dollars.”

While White House and congressional negotiators have agreed on a wide range of policy changes to improve education, they remain far apart on funding for elementary and secondary education next year. Democrats are seeking an increase of $13 billion. Democratic negotiators said the White House has proposed an increase of about $1.3 billion.

Despite the gap between the two parties on funding, a Republican leadership aide expressed confidence that the dispute could be resolved sufficiently by mid-week that the Senate could begin debate on the education bill.

Talks on funding failed to yield an agreement during the two-week congressional recess that ended Monday. But Senate aides said they are likely to intensify today in hopes of reaching agreement by Wednesday, when Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) plans to try to begin debate on the bill.

Democrats could block the Senate from acting by filibustering an initial procedural motion. With the Senate divided evenly between the parties, Republicans would have to pick up support of at least 10 Democrats to reach the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, and Democrats have demonstrated striking unity on such votes in recent years.